When you first meet someone and are deciding whether to see each other again, whether you want to or not, you consciously or unconsciously size each other up. In addition to deciding if you’re attracted to the other, you assess if you are in the same league as the other.
This league can be physical — there have been numerous studies that show people couple with others in the same relative attractiveness levels — with some obvious exceptions. Power and money (although some would say that money is power) is an exception. Thus the hot young woman with the not-so-attractive powerful/rich man. (Could be young, hot man with powerful/rich woman, but we don’t see that quite as much.)
Other elements of this league dynamic — in addition to looks and money/power — could be education, power without wealth (think politician), or fame.
When you decide to date someone you perceive as being a step or two below your league, you’ve found other characteristics that make it OK in your mind. You have lowered your standards in some area(s) because you think he has enough other attributes to mitigate where he doesn’t measure up.
So when — gasp — he breaks up with you, not only does it sting (nearly every break up stings, even if you’ve already decided to break up with him!), but you’re incredulous. “Really?” you think, “He has the audacity to break up with me? I lowered my standards to date him!” You’ve not only been rejected, but by someone you made an exception for!
Of course, you never told him you lowered your standards, but there’s a good chance he felt it. Maybe it was a look, or your occasional tone of voice, or perhaps an unconscious condescending comment. He knew you thought you were better than him. He could feel it. It might have been a big part of why he broke up with you. It gave him some satisfaction to put you in your place. And it stung less for him to break up with you than to let you have the upper hand by breaking up with him.
Or maybe — horrors — he thought he was lowering his standards to be with you!
So what to do? Should you never modify your standards? I think it depends on what they are. I’ve made exceptions to my “need to have” list and gotten to know some interesting men. I’ve also continued to date men who I knew were missing some basic elements I find critical. I think it’s important to be conscious of when you are making an exception, and then notice how you feel about that. Does he have other overriding attributes that make him exceptional?
What about you — have you ever dated someone who you felt wasn’t really at your same level? Did it get in the way of the relationship, or did you find it didn’t really matter? And if you were the one who was dumped, how did you deal with it?
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